Australia’s first muesli bar was the Uncle Tobys Toasted Muesli Crunchola Bar, launched in 1976. It was a jolly good chew and was replaced by less jaw-breaking versions including an apricot-flavoured bar and the moister Honey ‘n Oats bar. Relaunched in 1983, they were known simply as Muesli Bars and swim star Lisa Curry-Kenny became the spokesperson for the brand.
The Uncle Tobys brand traces its origins back to 1861 when two brothers, Leonard and George Parsons started producing John Bull Oats in Melbourne under the name of Parsons Brothers. In the 1890s, the Uncle Tobys name emerged for a brand of rolled oats marketed by Clifford Love and Co. of Sydney. In the 1950s the company was bought by an American food group, CPC International.
Clifford Love launched Australia’s first mass-market muesli in the mid-1970s and soon afterwards developed the first muesli bar. It was not a success. Apparently, the crisp, crunchy texture had limited appeal. It was only after Clifford Love merged with the privately-owned food and agribusiness company Inter City Mills (ICM) Australia in 1982, forming a new entity known as Best Foods, that the product was re-engineered.
A chewy muesli bar had been launched by the American company Quaker Products in the early 1980s and Best Foods developed a similar product for Australia. Launched in 1983 as Uncle Toby’s Muesli Bar the chewy version was an immediate success. The advertising campaign featured Lisa Curry, then a medal-winning Australian swimmer. The brand’s involvement with Australian swimming has continued.
In 1986, ICM bought out the American owners of the former Clifford Love and Best Foods became Australia’s largest privately-owned food manufacturer. However, the all-Australian ownership was not to last. In 1992, the New Zealand-based food group, Goodman Fielder Wattie bought the company, which had been relaunched as the Uncle Tobys Company in 1989. The “healthy snacks” division was acquired by Nestlé in 2006.
By 2020, Uncle Tobys was producing a dozen or so different variations on the original muesli bar, including the early favourite, Chewy Apricot, in their factory at Wagunyah, Victoria. Some are chewy, some are crunchy and some have less-than-healthy ingredients like choc chips. They claim that all are made with 100% Australian ingredients and no artificial colours or flavours. The ingredient list can be hefty, though. For example, the Yoghurt, Mango and Passionfruit Muesli Bar contains:
Muesli blend: [Uncle Tobys Rolled Oats (34%), wheat (11%), breakfast cereal (whole grain wheat (5%), wholemeal wheat flour, wheat bran, sugar, vitamin E), mango pieces (mango puree [2%]), coconut, milk powder], glucose, yoghurt compound (milk) [sugar, vegetable fat, yoghurt powder (1.3%), whey powder, emulsifiers (soy lecithin, 492), food acid (citric)], chicory root fibre, sunflower oil, sugar, humectant (glycerine), modified starch (1412), invert sugar, passionfruit juice concentrate (1%), honey, emulsifier (soy lecithin), food acid (citric), natural flavour.